Book Review: Ferdinand De Soto

Written by John S C Abbott in 1898, this is an interesting depiction of De Soto. I mostly looked for this book for this reason: I was hoping to find the earliest record of any person or entity that entered the United States and read what they found, what they saw. For my own personal study in Book of Mormon archeology, this would be critical.

I was amazed to find that the author commented (and reading the book I can understand) on how De Soto was not the conqueror that everyone has portrayed him to be.

While Columbus never entered the mainland (that we know of), others did immediately after. There was first the record of Panfilo de Narvaez in 1527, but most of his work focused on the southern part of the United States, namely around the Gulf of Mexico.

This book recalls while De Soto and his group started making their way up the mainland in 1539 and one of their unplanned missions was to repair damage done by Narvaez 10 years earlier. According to Abbott, De Soto was a selfish man, looking for gold and his own plot of land, but not necessarily to conquer the natives. Narvaez was supposedly not as casual in his quest, and did much damage. And so often De Soto tried to distance himself from Narvaez to make friends with the natives.

This is not to excuse the damage De Soto had done to the natives, but after reading this book, I wouldn’t put De Soto in the camp of “conqueror” but instead “misfit”. De Soto did build some relations with the natives, but often, fights ensued. And I never really read about his desire to “conquer”.

Diseases did come from his band, and it did infect the natives, but the diseases came from being stuck in the land, known at the time as Florida, over the winter after being lead from one place after another by the natives and eventually getting lost. I would say it was a group effort (I’m sure I will get disagreements from this, but it is only from reading this book. Make your own conclusion).

As far as connections to the natives, a few items I pulled from here having to do with their findings:

1. De Soto never found any gold, but supposedly found a native with a gold ax, thus their drive to find “the stash”. The natives kept leading them to gold, but never successfully found any.

2. De Soto, as well as Narvaez, were mistaken for a god or a supreme being of some type at one time or another.

3. The natives did not always live in tents, but more structures. In fact, they commented on how amazed they were as seeing more permanent structures, which did not seem to match their savagery.

4. When meeting with a female leader of one of their tribes (might have been the Indian Princess), she led them to a place where monuments were built to ancient spiritual leaders (would love to know where that is).

5. They knew how to farm.

6. They were very skilled in warfare.

7. They dressed in very little clothing, even in the winter (to those who think Book of Mormon lands had to be to the south because the Lamanites were hardly dressed).

8. And lastly, there was city after city after city, and they generally named them after whoever founded the city or was the leader of the time.

I am sure there is more. This book is a gem, but it might be hard to find. Thanks to the Pioneer Book store in Provo for finding this one.

One other thing to mention, there was a TV special on cable about the travels of De Soto. This special included a group of historians who re-mapped the travels of De Soto and concluded that De Soto could have gone as far north as Chicago, Illinois. I am trying to find that show, if anyone has any information on that, would be grand.

I am currently editing the next season of Hidden in the Heartland, hoping to have new material by March.

Book Review: “The Lost History of the New Madrid Earthquakes”

A few years ago, my wife and I took a road trip back to the center of the country and visited the small town of New Madrid. Missouri, which is located at the far eastern side of the state, cradled between the states of Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana. This town sits right in the middle of a fault line, which led to the remarkable story (or stories) of the Great Earthquake of 1811-1812.

When you visit New Madrid, there is a small museum that archives the stories and any remaining artifacts covering this event. In fact, there is even a seismic monitor to show the continual tremors that exist along that fault line.

This book, by Conevery Bolton Valencius, is a good and lengthy companion piece to what is seen in the museum. Basically, in 1811-1812, there was a great series of earthquakes that started in December of 1811 and returning tremors continued over the course of several months.

Three main tremors measured (by historical accounts without a seismograph) upward between 7.0 and 8.7. This book is filled with story after story of what happened, including lakes being formed, (Reel Foot Lake being one of them) the Mississippi River running backwards, and whole communities just disappearing.

The connection this has with the Book of Mormon is that many of the stories in this book match those of 3 Nephi Chapter 8. That chapter has always been a sore spot when talking about the locations in Central America. The Mesoamerican researchers utilize the need for a Volcano (when Volcano is not even mentioned in the scripture) to explain fires and the three days of darkness.

First off, we have so many fires today that we can’t control with modern technology…just sayin’. So I doubt we need volcanoes to create these fires. But the three days of darkness has always been a concern leaning toward the “magical” side of the Lord’s work. But there can be a natural explanation, other then a volcano that is not mentioned in the scriptures. You would think that if the author mentioned the fires, earthquakes and whirlwinds, they would also mention the volcano as well.

In the case of the great forgotten earthquake of 1811-1812, there were accounts of darkness that come along with the earthquake. The author states “Many people noted that the earthquakes were accompanied by fog, haziness or a darker then usual atmosphere.”

One quote the author used was from an engineer on a flatboat at the time “the atmosphere was filled with a thick vapor of gas to which the light imparted a purple tinge resembling but different from Indian summer or smoke.” There was also a quote from John James Audubon who claimed that is was so dark that you could no longer see the sun, moon and stars.

If you watch the 5th episode of Hidden in the Heartland, Rod Meldrum gives a great presentation about this comparison between the stories from this book and 3 Nephi chapter 8.

This book is filled with the stories that most people have never heard of, simply because it was in a part of the country that was not very populated, thus a low death count for something this big, hence it is known as the Great Earthquake America Forgot.

Book Review: “Iron Age America”

One of the criteria for finding Book of Mormon lands is an abundance of iron. If you read any book of Church history, occasionally you would hear about Father Bosley who lived near Palmyra in Avon, and he found mass amounts of iron as mentioned in the Life of Heber C. Kimball. It reads “he found and plowed up axes and irons, and had sufficient to make his mill irons, and had always abundance of iron on hand without purchasing.”

If you see one of the episodes of Hidden in the Heartland, we feature William Connor. I heard about this guy from Rod Meldrum and made an appointment for Stephanie and I to visit with him in his house just outside of Columbus, Ohio. Connor is amongst a growing number of people who feel the whole concept of the natives living in America were dumb savages until Columbus brought modern civility, is not necessarily the full truth.

Many books written about this subject are usually filled with historical research from the author. What is cool about Connors book is it is based on the actual things he found himself, or something he was part of.

Most of his book is focused on his time he spent with Arlington Mallery, a retired captain in the US Navy who had a hobby of examining old maps. It is also Connors mission to carry on the research of iron furnaces being found in Ohio left from the work done by Mallery.

According to the book, between Mallery and Connor they have found 33 sites where there are iron furnaces left over anciently. The evidence of these comes with the green colored pieces of rock or glaze found near by. They would then dig around and find the burnt left-overs of an iron furnace. They would find either a piece of iron, or a cast used to make iron tools.

Connors best discovery is a mold with the iron casting still inside. This artifact now sits in Wayne May’s mini-museum inside the Latter-day Harvest book store in Palmyra, New York. Connor was lucky enough to get the same opinion on the artifact from a metallurgist at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. But Connor writes that most university professionals refuse to take a look at his research or will not take the time to drive out to the locations Connor has dug….a continuing problem in this research.

I highly suggest getting this book. You can find this book at the FIRM Foundation website or Amazon.

Book Review: “Sailing Close to the Wind”

Rod Meldrum first introduced this book as an example of early sea voyages. And I highly recommend any serious researcher to review this book with an open mind. The author, Philip Beale left a successful career in 2003 to peruse the reconstruction of a ship originally built in 600 BC by the Phoenicians.

To set the stage, I am going to quote directly from the introduction: “Had Bartolommeu Dias been the first to round the Cape of Good Hope in 1488 or Vassos da Gama to circumnavigate Africa a decade later? The more I researched the more I believed the Phoenicians had sailed around the entire coast of Africa two thousand years before these first Portuguese explorers.”

And he goes on and records his attempt to prove history wrong (the kind of people I love to read from). He says he also read from the Greek historian Herodotus who told of a time when the Phoenicians had sailed around the continent of Africa in 600 BC sponsored by the pharaoh Necho.

While the journey of his research and rebuilding of the ship was impressive, totally in the spirit of Thor Heyerdahl’s Ra II in the 1960’s, what is most impressive is the route he took by following the natural winds around the continent and matching it with the possibility of where Lehi and his family could have could have sailed.

If you look on the map, you can see how as they went around the Cape of Good Hope and into the Atlantic, the natural winds kept sending them toward the Gulf of Mexico. The drama comes from the parts of the ocean where no communication is present and their fight to keep on course toward the northern coast of Africa.

Beale went on to write: “By heading so far west, we found we were fueling another debate: had the Phoenicians reached the Americas two thousand years before Columbus”.

The journey is riveting. It is also exciting that Beale would recall history in many of the steps he took in an effort to prove his journey legitimate. You can purchase the book at Bookofmormonevidence.org.

REVIEW: Ancient America Magazine

I will be giving some information over the next few months about my road trip that I just returned from.

The first thing I want to cover is my trip to the Ancient Artifact Preservation Society annual conference in the Upper peninsula of Michigan. While there, I spent some time with Wayne May, who is the editor in chief with Ancient American Magazine and has been for over 20 years.

He handed me this issue of Ancient American that I relished over. I read every word of this issue the first day there and realized that much of this special issue covering Cumorah Land was a big basis for season 2 of Hidden in the Heartland. Cumorah is a key to our research in defending the Heartland Model.

The first article goes right to DeWitt Clinton, a key individual in reporting what is found in and around New York in the early days of America. He was governor of New York very early in the 1800’s, and provided much of the information for Squire in writing “Antiquities of New York”. It was his opinion that there was a far larger and more advanced society that lived here in New York then we will ever know. He also played a great role in the establishment of the Church by his creation of the Erie Canal.

This issue also includes early, pre-first vision articles in Palmyra that talk of archeology in the area denoting battles in and around Palmyra, and referring to their remains.

Letter VII is also a topic of discussion with Oliver Cowdery telling his side of the story in the Hill Cumorah (more on that in another article).

There were many instances of stories and ancient sites, including forts such as the Genesee County Hill Fort, which is one of 20 sites in and around the area.

It is my suggestion to find this issue and order it from Ancient America.

Ancient American Magazine

FIRM Foundation Conference

Just a reminder that the Book of Mormon evidence conference put on by Rod Meldrum and the FIRM Foundation is coming up this weekend. I will be presenting on Friday night (I think about 7:00). I will be talking about the material in some of the books I have been posting, as it pertains to the next round of filming.

I will also have a booth there, so come say hello. My booth this time around will NOT be a Hidden in the Heartland booth, but more about the LDS Film Festival. I have nothing new to sell yet.

Then, on October 1, I will be road-tipping back east for a few weeks filming interviews for the next season of Hidden. I am hoping to post some daily videos on where I am, etc. Since I will be on the road, I will not have any book reviews till I get back.

I am excited to show you what we are doing for Season 2 of Hidden in the Heartland. I am hoping to premiere the next season at the LDS Film Festival, which is February 27-March 2 of next year.

Book Review: “In Plain Sight”

Published in 1994, the material in this book was a result of 40 years of research from Gloria Farley. As I look in this book, I notice the familiar names from the era of the 1970’s and 80’s like Dr. Joseph Mahan (the ISAC Organization) Barry Fell (America BC) Cyrus Gordon and Henrietta Mertz (discovering the Hebrew of the Bat Creek Stone) and even Paul Cheesman all getting credited for material in this book.

What led me to this book was my research in the two tablets that have been found in America that are identical, the Chief Joseph Tablet and the Hearn Tablet, both written in cuneiform and both are a receipt for animals sold in 2040 BC. These topics led me to this book, which covers mostly about petroglyphs, hieroglyphs, coins or stones with writing and imagery, and her journey to decipher what she has found.

Gloria Farley had evolved into an “Epigraphic Explorer” searching for inscriptions on stones. She supposedly had a reputation for going to great lengths to finding inscriptions. One thing that I noticed from a lot of researchers, she states in the first pages of this book, is that the inscriptions being found in America could not be made by the American Indian.

This statement becomes one of the reasons there is a disconnect between archeologists at universities with tenure, and just plain researchers (as listed in the first paragraph) who have a desire to find the truth. When something of antiquity is found, some will say “this couldn’t possibly be made by these ignorant savages” while the university professors cry “racism” and then condemn the whole finding as fake BECAUSE of the racist claim.

If you watch the 7th episode of Hidden in the Heartland where we cover the Kinderhook Plates, I personally asked the historian from the Chicago History Museum (which did not make it in the final edit) what he thought of any evidence of pre-Columbian contact to America. His answer was that Columbus was the first and anything that denoted intelligence before was fake and a racist attempt to claim others came to the US before.

The Mormon view merges the two together (in my opinion): We believe the pre-Columbian artifacts that denote intelligence are made BY the “ignorant savages”, and that was there was an actual decrease in information and technology when people chose to stop following God. It should be considered very un-racist for Joseph Smith to actually hold up the Native American as a tribe of Israel as an effort to make them as equal to the Europeans that forced them off their land.

Back to Gloria. One of her lifelong pursuits was bringing validity to the Norse Runes Stone in Heavener, Oklahoma (where she was from) and her constant distain from scholars that claim it fake and so forth. The book is chock full of examples of inscriptions, whether it be pictures or signs or some kind of language, including Cuneiform, Olgam, Hebrew and Egyptian. And littered throughout are also examples of people who would call them fake, and her mission on how to bring validity to what she found.

I highly recommend getting this book and adding it to the collection of what is out there for pre-Colombian studies.

Book Review: “Ancient American Indians”

This was published in 1991, which was the year of Paul Cheeseman’s passing while he was serving as a missionary in Palmyra. As my study continues, I am still trying to figure what his mission was, and if he served at the Hill Cumorah or just around Palmyra. It would be kind of ironic being that he was part of the group that believed the Hill Cumorah in New York was the “secondary” hill.

But the few sources I have studied it almost seems that Cheeseman had a heart for the North American study of the Book of Mormon (before it was labeled the Heartland Model). AND that he was criticized for it by his peers.

As a reminder, Wikipedia says that Paul Cheeseman was an archeologist and professor of religion at Brigham Young University, and spent a lot of his time in search of Book of Mormon Evidence with that group. In fact, he is the man that appears in the video “Ancient America Speaks”, produced in 1974 where he goes all through Mesoamerica and shows the ruins and how they connect to the Book of Mormon. (One of my favorite VHS tapes to show on my mission).

What led me to this book began with an article in 1975 Ensign entitled “Transatlantic Crossings: A New Look”. First off, the Ensign rarely gets into physical evidence of the Book of Mormon, they stick to the spiritual side of things…but then, this is 1975.

In this article, Paul Cheeseman goes into a meeting of diffusionists he attended where non-Mormons, led by Dr. Joseph Mahan (who we will be writing more about in the future) all brought together evidence that there was a religious and advanced pre-Colombian presence here in North America. What threw me off about that article was not ONE lick of evidence talked about Central or Mesoamerica.

15 years later comes this book “Ancient American Indians”. The introduction reads as follows: “The author is of the opinion that students and scholars have neglected the studies of North American Indian cultures before the Spanish conquest. Some have believed North America had little to offer regarding ancient American studies because there are no magnificent stone pyramids. Therefore, the author has devoted three years to investigative, on-site studies, in over thirty five states, photographing and cataloging the better-known ruins and civilizations of pre-Columbian North America”

Now my question is WHO are these “students” and “scholars” that are neglecting North America? The ones in academia in general? Or the ones down the hall from his office? I don’t honestly know.

I do know that he got criticism for this book by his peers. His book was panned by the likes of Martin H. Raish and John L. Sorenson (main members of the Meso-club) as “a work of shoddy scholarship and hurts more then helps a true understanding of the Book of Mormon”. My question is why?

The book is simply a list of sites, artifacts and history that most of us who study the Heartland theory of the Book of Mormon already know (the Bat Creek stone, Decalogue Stone, Cahokia, etc). I have admittedly read half of it and sped-read the other half, simply because I already knew the material. Not sure how it “hurts” an understand of the Book of Mormon. Maybe because it “hurts” the Mesoamerican theory. There are plenty of Central American pieces riddled all through the book, but then again, it is a 2014 reprint of the 1991 publication.

Probably the most interesting quote I picked up was this: “It is the authors opinion that whenever there are discoveries which might possess even the slightest religious overtones, some scholars brand the research as fraudulent, simply to protect their academic reputation”. I wonder if that same fear comes to those at BYU when ever something from North America is discovered.

Go get this book!

Book Review: “Hidden Cities”

I first heard of Roger Kennedy in the film made by Steve Smoot called “Lost Civilizations of North America”. He was interviewed in the film about his knowledge of Ancient Pre-Columbian activity. He was the director of the American History Museum at the Smithsonian Institution and even in his position, was not aware of all the evidence of Ancient America till late in his career…Hence the book “Hidden Cities”.

It is a very well written and researched book, published in 1994. He is well versed in American history. And in his writing, he weaves what was going on in history when certain antiquities were found.

While he touches on the antiquities of Central and South America, he feels the United States antiquities are older and more surprising to find. He writes “Before anything so ambitious had been built in Mexico, Central or South America, earthen buildings were arranged in strict repeated geometric patters along the bayous and channels in what are now the states of Louisiana and Mississippi.”

His writing is eloquent, but he does seem to slightly “show off” with his knowledge and takes his time getting to the point of the antiquity or site or concept. Yet in reading you do have to be patient and get more of a history lesson then just a typical “list” of ancient antiquities like other books do.

Sometimes the history lessons are fun. Sometimes you want him to cut to the chase. And he does put a lot of emphasis on race and the damage done to the Native American and African American as slaves. It is all true, but if you are of European descent, you might feel like crap after a while.

I do feel Roger Kennedy was very fair in his discussions. Most of his book covers the likes of Washington, Jefferson and Jackson and their dealings with ancient American antiquities. He sites many examples that explain how treating the natives as less-then a human caused much of the antiquities to be lost. (Manifest Destiny)

My favorite section is a short couple of pages where he goes into the example of religious people who believed the natives were of a tribe of Israel. He considers these people one of the few who were actually allies of the displaced natives. It is during this section he quotes the likes of Manasseh Ben Israel, Ethan Smith and even Joseph Smith.

When taking about the Mormons view of the Natives, he gives an overall positive view of Joseph Smith and was well researched on the Book of Mormon. All through the explanation, he kept saying the Nephites were the Mound Builders (even though Smith hardly ever made the direct reference, Kennedy did it for him), and made it look more like Smith had “discovered the truth about the builders of the mounds”.

One of Kennedy’s quotes on the Mormons: “Smith became founder of the only world religion to be based in American archeology”. An interesting take on The Book of Mormon.

I overall loved this book. I loved watching Kennedy on Smoot’s documentary to begin with, but the book is very complimentary to his “old-fashioned history teacher” presence. I would have loved to have met him, but he passed not long after the making of “Lost Civilizations”. I was lucky that my copy had his autograph on it.

Book Review “Book of Mormon Geography”

“Book of Mormon Geography: In Search of Ramah-Cumorah” is such a long title for such a short book. But this 90 pages is packed full of North American goodness, it’s hard to know where to begin.

If you are a researcher of the same material I have been reading you HAVE to get this book. It was written by Willard Bean and Cecil McGavin. As a reminder, Willard Bean was the professional boxer who was called on a special mission in 1915 to Palmyra, which was known as the most prejudice place on earth against Mormons at the time, and Willard was the first Mormon to live there since Joseph Smith was kicked out 85 years earlier.

One of his missions was to purchase the Hill Cumorah and many other church sites. His 5 year mission turned to 24 years. He spent much of his time on Hill Cumorah and sees things from a different perspective.

On a side note, his life is currently being made into a film. I originally wrote a screenplay about his life, getting ready to make my own film, but TC Christensen beat me to it (a long story for another time).

The first piece of evidence to take from in reading this book is that the 2-Hill Cumorah theory was new and for some members of the church is was a problem. It goes on to read “In recent years there has been a tendency among certain students of the Book of Mormon to originate Book of Mormon cultures far to the south. Many students of the subject are convinced that the three colonies that came to America had their existence in Central America and Mexico.”

They continue” Most students who accept this theory do not consider the Hill Cumorah in western New York as the hill where gold plates were originally deposited, nor the area immediately south of the Great Lakes as the site of the Jaredite and Nephite battlefield.”

In wrapping up the introduction “The following pages are a plea in defense of the old theory – the interpretation of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Orson Pratt and a countless number of the Authorities of the Church.”

Then, they proceed to go into example after example, quotes from church leaders, and quotes from the likes of Champlain, Frontenac, Turner, McIntosh and New York governor DeWitt Clinton all experts in evidence of pre-Columbian contact to North America.

This book should be considered a starting point for the rest of your study. I generally make it a personal rule that if a Mormon wrote a book on Book of Mormon Geography, then you need to back that up with non-Mormon sources. In this case, My study has evolved into not only pre-Columbian North American influence, but the evolution of the 2-Hill Cumorah theory itself.

This book was written in 1948, a year after the book “Cumorah-Where?”was written by Stuart Ferguson, which made the case of the 2-HIll Cumorah theory. You can see a review of that book earlier on this blog.